Early on in the research for The White Devil’s Daughters, I learned about a horrific aftermath to the story I was writing. My focus was on a group of women residents and staffers of a historic safe house who fought sex slavery at the turn of the 20th century. One day, while sifting through case files with the home’s retired executive director, she suddenly turned to me and asked, do you know about Dick Wichman?
Remembering Judy Yung
Judy Yung’s death this month marks the passing of a gifted and generous scholar. Her groundbreaking work in the history of Asian American women paved the way for a new generation of thinkers and writers.
Along with fellow San Franciscans Him Mark Lai and the Philip P. Choy, Judy Yung made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the Asian American experience. Her focus was on women, a group that had been largely been overlooked by scholars. Judy died on December 14 at her home after a fall, at the age of 74.
Talking with Min Jin Lee
Over this past week, I’ve been immersed in Pachinko. To be specific, I had the fortunate assignment to read Min Jin Lee’s masterful novel Pachinko, which is a family saga about the world of Koreans living in Japan.
I’ve always loved the sprawling social novels of the 19th century – Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Hard Times, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
In the 20th century, perhaps the most famous social novel was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which exposed the hardships of migrant farm workers. These are all works that explore pressing social problems through the lives of characters. They’re also sometimes called protest novels, because they often aim to expose a social injustice.
Women’s lives have long been overlooked by historians, especially the lives of women of color. But a new PBS project, UnladyLike2020, is producing 26 documentary shorts of unsung women heroes of American history.
Part of PBS’s American Masters series honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, just aired a film about Tye Leung Schulze. She was the first Chinese American woman to work for the U.S. Federal Government and an advocate for trafficked women. You can watch the film here.
Two Historic “Safe Houses”
Cameron House, at 920 Sacramento Street in San Francisco, is famous as the place where thousands of vulnerable girls and women found their freedom in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It opened its doors in 1874 and is the setting for my book, The White Devil’s Daughters.
But it was not the first organization to supporting trafficking survivors in Chinatown.
That honor goes to the Methodist Mission Home, now located a few blocks away at 940 Washington Street. It opened its top floor two years earlier, in 1870, to provide a refuge to Chinese girls and women who’d been trafficked into labor or sex slavery. Like Cameron House, the institution now known as Gum Moon Residence Hall & Asian Women’s Resource Center still provides services to vulnerable women.
“Auntie” Tye and one degree of separation….
One of the unexpected pleasures of my book tour has been meeting readers whose own life stories overlap with the characters I write about in The White Devil’s Daughters.
After a recent talk I gave at the San Francisco Theological Seminary , a retired Chinese American woman named May Lynne Lim came up to introduce herself to me. We chatted briefly and she handed me a sealed envelope with my name inked onto it in careful handwritten script.
Five Generations at Cameron House
The Rev. Harry Chuck can trace his family’s history at 920 Sacramento Street back to the late 19th century.
That’s when his grandmother was sold into slavery by her impoverished family in China. Her owners sent her to San Francisco but she was intercepted by immigration officials before she reached one of Chinatown’s many brothels. They brought her instead to the Presbyterian Mission Home on 920 Sacramento Street, which was established in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1874 as a refuge for vulnerable women.
From Cameron House to Civil Rights Work
Donaldina Cameron’s work inspired many people. One of the most memorable is Marion Kwan, a civil rights activist who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s.
Born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Marion calls herself a “Cameron House kid.” When Marion’s mother immigrated from China in 1940, she was detained along with Marion’s older 7-year-old sister at Angel Island. After their release, they were met on San Francisco’s docks by one of Cameron House’s Chinese staffers, possibly Mae Wong.
This summer, I saw the new film “Chinatown Rising” in San Francisco. It’s a new documentary directed by Harry Chuck and Josh Chuck, a father and son team. Both of them have been deeply involved with Cameron House, whose early history I explore in my latest book.
The Rev. Harry Chuck, a social activist and now filmmaker, was a youth director and then Executive Director of Cameron House. He mentioned to his son Josh, who also worked at Cameron House over the years, that he was thinking about getting rid of some film reels that had been sitting in his garage for decades. Josh asked if he could see them first.
Seeking Refuge on the “Castle” Grounds
I’ve walked or biked past our local “castle” hundreds of times: Its Romanesque Revival campus perched on a hillside above my home town has a magical quality to it, particularly at dusk. In the days when our boys were reading J.K. Rowling’s books, it seemed as if Harry Potter might swoop through it spires any moment during a Quidditch match.